With a change in my circumstances and recent problems in my life, I have been trying to define success and what it really means to each of us and I think I have worked out its foundations. I believe that the essence of our lives is our values - what matter to us the most and how they shape our world. Whether liberating or limiting, values affect everything we do.
Someone can live with a value that says: Disco dancing is not something any self-respecting person does! That's fine, but that preference ignores two important and beneficial facts about the pastime. First, that the more we exercise our bodies, the more we are relaxed by music and the healthier we are. Second, the more we take time out to simply enjoy ourselves and connect with other humans, the better we both look and feel.
Values come from our parents, to begin with, then from our peer groups and then through our workplace, from the people we routinely try to impress and, finally, from ourselves through increased awareness and knowledge. What a lot of people subconsciously deny is that they can actually change their values and thus change their lives, dramatically - almost in an instant; that values DO change as we become more aware and evolve in our lives, to match our aspirations and identity.
Every behaviour we express is done for either one of two reasons: to avoid pain or to get pleasure, according to our value system. So, if we are reluctant to change our values it is likely that we associate pain with them (the pain of disapproval, of isolation from a significant person/group, of punishment, of guilt, of disappointment or of confused identity, to name a few examples).
Values and Personal Perception
Values powerfully affect personal PERCEPTION which in turn decides our identity, beliefs, attitudes, behaviour, aspirations, purpose and the reaction from others. That's why fearful people with weak, inconsistent or superficial values tend to have no real purpose to their lives or any genuine success. It is difficult to achieve when we don't know what we want, when we prefer to blame others for our problems or are afraid to dream.
Perception is actually governed by two elements: CONFIDENCE and FEAR, the amount of each depending on personality and experience. For example, someone who is confident would be more assured in approach and more willing to experiment and move into the unknown; to give greater acknowledgement and value to others because they are likely to feel less threatened. However, someone whose perception is dominated by fear will be more anxious, perhaps developing a siege mentality, and likely to withdraw from most things in their lives. They would see everything as threatening, costly, painful or even alien to their values. They would seldom see gains, only losses. Most of their values would tend to be limiting, avoiding rather than approaching, which ultimately curtails their personal success.
Values also dictate five very important aspects of our perception:
a. Who am I?
b. What do I stand for?
c. Where am I going?
d. How much do I like myself?
e. How do I treat/relate to others?
During my lone marriage I was unsure of all of these elements of my life. If I had to rate each out of 5 at that time, the score would be as follows: 3,3,2,3,2 (total 13 out of 25). Today I would rate them: 5,5,5,5,4 (24)! You can see the leap in awareness, congruence and self-belief. That's how I know that the sky is now definitely my limit as I begin to use my knowledge and resources to fulfil the aim of those questions. Try that little exercise on yourself to see where you are now! The answer could be most enlightening.
The Effect of Congruence on Success
True SUCCESS comes when we have CONGRUENCE (or alignment) in our values and know the answers to the 5 elements above by heart. I could not be as successful as I hoped before now because I had too much incongruence and inconsistency in my life. For example, I wanted desperately to be loved by my husband but I still put up with a negative situation instead, thinking all the time things would change as I waited for him to act! Yet the key was really me taking action, not waiting for someone else to do so. I also wanted to be a successful entrepreneur through my talents, but way back as a teenager I made vows to give up material things and eschew money which has remained in my subconscious ever since. The result is that I paid little attention to the finance while focusing on the product! But the two needed to go together.
I also wanted to be creative to fulfil Items b and c, but I suppressed my creativity with my partner because he did not give my dreams or aspirations much relevance or encouragement. In fact, in my bid for approval, I accepted behaviour both in myself and others which went against my values and principles, as I tried vainly to live a ‘decent’ and caring life. But decency is not possible in an absence of respect. Nothing good can ever come out of incongruence and imbalance, especially when our values are constantly challenged. When we have to pretend regarding our basic needs, or to deny what we want to make us happy in order to please someone else or gain approval, we are going nowhere.
I feel as though I had to shed the old false skin of incongruity, to go to rock bottom on all fronts, especially in my marriage and business, which had lots of inconsistencies, to realise who I was and where I was going. The effect, this past few years, in particular, has been incredible. It's like being finally contented, at peace, knowledgeable and invincible.
Purpose and Meaning
Values give us both purpose and meaning. Success is thus elusive when we don't know exactly where we are heading in our life and what our purpose is. That is why many people achieve short term aims, like money or status, but still remain largely unhappy and unfulfilled. In fact, they might have great disappointment wondering if that was what it was all about. They mistakenly believe those things would provide happiness. But such transitory gains usually don't, unless they are part of the context of fulfilling an overall individual purpose at some point. Happiness comes from inside us, when we know who we are, what we stand for and where we are going; when we love ourself unconditionally and treat others with compassion, value and respect, if not love. When we actually make time for others and ourselves, the Universe delivers.
My overall purpose is simple: to make a difference to the lives of others for the rest of my life. In daily terms it translates like this: Giving either my smile, an affirmation, praise, my time, information, advice, my expertise or actual presence to someone to help their life to be more meaningful and enjoyable. One person having any of my contributions on any one day will mean 365 for the whole year. And if they each passed that on to just one other person, that will be 730. That's how I hope to impact on MY world, not the world at large because that will take care of itself in due course through the ripple effect.
The Power of Values over Decisions
Basically, wherever we are frustrated in our achievement, there is usually a value blocking the way, because it is incompatible with what we actually seek or desire, or because we have too readily compromised it! We are not being true to ourselves which generates unnecessary mental conflict and anguish. For example, we might value one thing – like honesty – but secretly have affairs, or slag off our friends and colleagues, then wonder why there is no trust at home or we have few friends! If we are also stuck in an unfulfilling job which goes against our values and which puts a salary at the heart of everything, we will continue to be unhappy, low in self-esteem and to underachieve.
People who want to ‘change the world’ tend to be the least likely to do anything at all because they are too focused on the big picture and become overwhelmed by it, which makes them inactive. What they forget is that changing the world is a collective responsibility. While they are busy trying to change it singlehandedly everyone else would then have nothing to do, and might even sabotage their efforts through envy or jealousy!! However, if everyone simply looked after, or impacted on, their own environment in some small way, the whole world would gradually be impacted through an outwardly rippling effect, hopefully for the better.
Do you know what your values are? If you do, what should be the most important thing for you today? Not sure? Well, it is every single DECISION you are likely to make, no matter how small. But that's another article! As long as you are sure of your values and live through them, without undue compromise, your success is guaranteed. I hope you have a fabulous day, and that your values are giving you both the confidence and the courage to make the right decisions. You could be most surprised by the results!
ELAINE SIHERA (Ms Cyprah - http://www.myspace.com/elaineone ) is an expert author, media contributor and columnist. The first Black graduate of the OU and a post-graduate of Cambridge University, Elaine is a CONSULTANT for Diversity Management, Personal Empowerment and Relationships. Dynamic extrovert with a passion for living and people. Author of: 10 Easy Steps to Growing Older Disgracefully; 10 Easy Steps to Finding Your Ideal Soulmate!; Money, Sex & Compromise and Managing the Diversity Maze, among others (available on http://www.amazon.co.uk ). Also the founder of the British Diversity Awards and the Windrush Achievement Awards.